The effort to help small businesses in the city seems finally to be gathering steam. Latest evidence? The move by two city councilmembers, Margaret Chin and Robert Cornegy, to introduce legislation that would create a new “Office of the Small Business Advocate” within the city’s Department of Small Business Services.
The new post, which Chin told us she’d like to have up and running this year, would serve as an ombudsman for small businesses within city government, helping them clear through the bureaucracy to get things done. (If you thought this was the job of the Small Business Services department, so did we.) Perhaps even more importantly, the ombudsman also will tally the type and number of complaints by small business owners, the actions taken in response, and some policy recommendations for ways to begin to fix things. If done well, the ombudsman’s report would give us the first quantitative taste of what’s wrong with small businesses in the city, an important first step towards fixing the problem.
“Small businesses need help,” Chin told us this week. “They really don’t know who to call or who to talk to.”
To really make a difference, of course, the advocate will have to find a way to tackle rising rents, which remain many business’ most vexing problem. While Chin said it’s too early to gauge what role the advocate could have there, more information on the problem can’t be a bad thing.
This step, combined with the efforts by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer to mediate the rent renewal process, offer some early, tangible signs of progress. For many small business owners, that can’t come soon enough.